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Blue corn...New Mexico's gift to cooks.

Blue corn . . . New Mexico's gift to cooks

A truly native plant, blue corn seems to speak of the wild and rugged environment in which it grows. Its austere taste and curious deep color have been part of the cookery of New Mexico's people since before recorded history.

Foods made with this earthy Southwest staple--here and on pages 170 through 173--may seem startling at first encounter. But most tasters are soon wooed by the pleasant, rather primitive, parchedtoasted flavor of blue corn.

Still, in a time when food ideas and supplies seem to leap from one part of the country to another almost overnight, blue corn has kept pretty much to its native terrain--you've generally had to travel to New Mexico to get a supply.

That's changing. Ground meals of blue corn are finding their way into specialty-and health-food stores elsewhere in the West, and there are also mail-order sources. Availability depends on the supply, which may run low between seasons.

The crop is planted in the spring, and as the midnight blue to deep purple ears mature in October and November, they are harvested and left to dry. Before the corn can be ground into flours or meals (harinas), shucked kernels are cooked and soaked in lime water to soften and loosen the tough outer hull. Then the corn is washed well, removing the hulls and the alkaline solution.

Two textures, a changeable color

When dried, kernels are ground into a coarse, bluish-gray meal called blue cornmeal or harina para tortillas; it's about as attractive as powdered concrete. Reconstituted with water, the meal makes toritillas and other regional specialties.

A finer-textured blue cornmeal, harina para atole, is also available. To make it, the dried kernels are not cooked; they are toasted or parched, then ground. The meal has a slightly different flavor and is the traditional base for a cooked, sweetened gruel, atole. Except for tortillas, you can use both meals interchangeably.

As with the color of red onions or red cabbage, the color of blue corn is quite sensitive. Subject to the effects of akaline substances such as baking soda (or the lime or ash water used by Southwest Indians), dough made with blue cornmeal turns darker blue to greenish. In contact with an acid, such as vinegar, it develops a deep violet to purple cast.

Here is the unique staple of the Southwest, the blue corn tortilla. For other recipes and mail-order sources, see page 170.

Blue Corn Tortillas

Eat warm with butter, or with any taco filling. These tortillas are much firmer and less flexible than yellow tortillas.

2 cups blue cornmeal for tortillas

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm water

Waxed paper, about 24 pieces cut 6 inches square

In a bowl, mix cornmeal, salt, and water until meal is moistened. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough stand at least 2 minutes; keep covered at all times to prevent drying.

Divide dough into 12 equal parts and quickly roll each between your hands to form a ball; flatten slightly and return each to covered bowl.

To shape with a tortilla press, cover the bottom half of the press with a square of waxed paper and set a dough piece on the paper. Lay another piece of waxed paper on dough and close, pressing tightly.

To shape with a rolling pin, place a piece of dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper; flatten slightly with your hand. Lightly run a rolling pin over dough several times. Flip dough and paper over and continue to roll out until a ragged 6-inch circle is formed.

Carefully peel off top piece of waxed paper; lay it gently back on tortilla and turn papers and tortillas over. Gently peel off the paper that is now on top.

To make a perfectly shaped tortilla, you can cut the dough into a 5- to 6-inch round; use the end of a 2-pound coffee can as a cutter. Let tortilla stand uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes to dry slightly.

As you are shaping the first tortilla, place a cast-iron or other heavy 10- to 12-inch frying pan or griddle over medium-high heat (or use an electric frying pan or griddle set at medium-high or 375|). When the pan is hot, lift the tortilla, supporting it with the paper, and turn over into the pan. At once, peel off paper. Cook tortilla until surface looks dry and bottom side is flecked with brown, about 30 seconds. With a wide spatula, flip tortilla over and continue to cook about 1 minute; put on a plate and cover with foil. While one tortilla is cooking, shape another; cook it as you shape the next. Stack tortillas as baked and keep covered.

Tortillas are best as a bread if eaten while still warm. For other uses, store cool tortillas in a plastic bag and refrigerate up to 5 days, or freeze for longer storage. Makes 12 tortillas, 5- to 6-inch size.

Blue Corn Chips with Salsa

Sometimes shatteringly brittle, and always harder than regular corn chips, blue corn chips are a ubiquitous appetizer in Sante Fe.

12 blue corn tortillas (see preceding recipe)

Salad oil

1 to 1 1/2 cups bottled salsa

Stack tortillas, then cut stack in 4 to 6 wedges. Pour about 1/2 inch oil into a 10-to 12-inch frying pan on medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add tortilla wedges to fill pan in a single layer. Cook and stir just until crisp, about 30 seconds. Lift from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all are cooked. Serve chips from a basket, to dip in salsa as an appetizer or snack. If made ahead, store the chips airtight up to 5 days at room temperature.

Photo: New Mexico's ancient staple, flour ground from kernels of blue corn, produces tortillas, waffles, muffins

Photo: Sprinkle cheese onto each layer of flat enchilada
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:recipes
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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